Anorexia is a serious eating disorder characterized by a refusal to maintain a body weight within 15 percent of your ideal weight. There are two sub-categories of anorexia, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness: people who restrict calories severely and possibly exercise excessively, and those who purge after eating to lose weight. Anorexia is treatable, generally through psychotherapy, medical treatment and dietary intervention. Once you've reached recovery, a healthy diet can help to ensure long-term wellness.
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Your diet after anorexia should support physical and emotional wellness and promote stable, long-term recovery. Sticking to your healthy meal plan, as designated by your health care professionals, and developing and maintaining normal, healthy dietary behaviors are vital, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Your diet should also address any complications of anorexia, such as nutrient deficiencies, you may have.
Your diet following anorexia will likely involve three balanced meals and snacks at regular time intervals each day. Though your dietitian or doctor may use various meal plan formats, dietitian and eating disorder specialist Diane Keddy, MS, RD, recommends the USDA eating plan, which is based upon the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The latest USDA plan, MyPlate, recommends foods from all vital food groups — fruits, vegetables, grains, protein and dairy — in appropriate quantities and proportion. Your diet may involve a food journal, in which you track your food intake and any relevant emotional or physical comments. Your food journal is not intended as a self-judgment tool but as a means of tracking your progress and sharing the details of your diet with your health care professional.
Maintaining a healthy diet after anorexia can pose numerous challenges. Though your weight may have improved, the psychological repercussions of the disorder may linger for some time. You may also require heightened fat and calorie intake for up to several years, according to Keddy, until your weight and wellness have fully recovered and remain stable. Successful recovery requires acceptance of a weight you may not yet feel comfortable with maintaining and eating more food than you're comfortable eating. Many people with anorexia struggle with perfectionism. Thus, an additional challenge may involve accepting that no one eats "perfectly,"and that aiming for such perfection can be damaging. If your digestive function has been affected by your eating disorder, you may initially struggle with bloating and constipation.
Though you should not aim for "perfect" food choices, your diet should be based upon the same healthy principles recommended for healthy individuals. This means opting for complex carbohydrates such as whole grains and starchy vegetables over refined carbohydrates, such as white bread and sugar. Healthy protein sources are low in saturated fat and include lean meat and poultry, fish, egg whites, tofu and low-fat dairy products. Incorporate a variety of fruits and vegetables into your meals and snacks. Healthy fat sources include canola oil, olive oil, nuts, seeds and avocado. Keddy recommends incorporating occasional treat foods, such as sweet desserts, to avoid feelings of deprivation and establish normal, healthy eating patterns.
A healthy eating plan after anorexia is extremely important. Not only does such a diet improve your overall wellness, it helps to prevent relapse, which is common among anorexia sufferers, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Relapses can be life-threatening and may lead to additional long-term complications or additional eating disorder symptoms, such as binging and severe depression. Staying in close contact with your treatment professionals and aiming for gradual, healthy changes can help to ensure your dietary and emotional success.
REFERENCES & RESOURCES
- National Alliance on Mental Illness: What is Anorexia Nervosa?
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Anxiety Facts and Treatment
- "Eating Disorders Today"; Nutrition Hotline; Diane Keddy, MS, RD; 2003
- Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010